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J Clin Microbiol. 2010 Jul;48(7):2433-9. doi: 10.1128/JCM.00208-10. Epub 2010 Apr 26.

Does bleach processing increase the accuracy of sputum smear microscopy for diagnosing pulmonary tuberculosis?

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Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, San Francisco General Hospital, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94110, USA.


Bleach digestion of sputum prior to smear preparation has been reported to increase the yield of microscopy for diagnosing pulmonary tuberculosis, even in high-HIV-prevalence settings. To determine the diagnostic accuracy of bleach microscopy, we updated a systematic review published in 2006 and applied the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation framework to rate the overall quality of the evidence. We searched multiple databases (as of January 2009) for primary studies in all languages comparing bleach and direct microscopy. We assessed study quality using a validated tool and heterogeneity by standard methods. We used hierarchical summary receiver operating characteristic (HSROC) analysis to calculate summary estimates of diagnostic accuracy and random-effects meta-analysis to pool sensitivity and specificity differences. Of 14 studies (11 papers) included, 9 evaluated bleach centrifugation and 5 evaluated bleach sedimentation. Overall, examination of bleach-processed versus direct smears led to small increases in sensitivity (for bleach centrifugation, 6% [95% confidence interval [CI] = 3 to 10%, P = 0.001]; for bleach sedimentation, 9% [95% CI = 4 to 14%, P = 0.001]) and small decreases in specificity (for bleach centrifugation, -3% [95% CI = -4% to -1%, P = 0.004]; for bleach sedimentation, -2% [95% CI = -5% to 0%, P = 0.05]). Similarly, analysis of HSROC curves suggested little or no improvement in diagnostic accuracy. The quality of evidence was rated very low for both bleach centrifugation and bleach sedimentation. This updated systematic review suggests that the benefits of bleach processing are less than those described previously. Further research should focus on alternative approaches to optimizing smear microscopy, such as light-emitting diode fluorescence microscopy and same-day sputum collection strategies.

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